The art of asking WHY

You are as good as the decisions you take. In the business world, you are as good as the decisions you take, and they better be better than your competitors. In a world, where every industry is ripe for disruption by new entrants that are built from the ground up on technology, it’s not only about making decisions that are better than your competitors, it’s about making them fast, based on data and get everyone in the organization to adopt a data-driven culture to support your growth. Simple in theory, the fact is that most of the companies I know are not data-driven. Ask yourself, how often do you access the data in your organization, how easy it is to navigate the data to reach a meaningful insight and how many people in the organization are actually doing that on a regular basis.

Let’s take it step by step, what does it mean to make a decision based on data? Most people tend to think that the definition of a decision that is based on data is that all the data is laid out in front of you and there is an algorithm that plots the answer and the action that needs to be taken. I have never seen such a business decision. The reality is that most of the data is hidden underneath the first layer of data, and if you want to take a solid decision, you need to dig in and find an insight. How do you do that, you need to follow two simple rules – at every step of the exploration process, you need to put the data at hand in context and then you need to ask WHY. If you repeat this process enough times, you will find yourself staring at an insight that leads you in the right direction. Want an example?

Let’s assume that you are a marketing manager and you want to explore ways to drive more leads coming to your website from the US.  

First, you need to put the number of leads from the US in context – two simple ways to do it would be comparing the numbers across markets and looking at trends over time. For this example, let’s assume that you see that last month the number of leads coming from the UK was growing faster than the growth in the number of leads coming from the US.

Now it’s time to use the second tool – ask yourself why there was a difference last month in the growth rate of leads between US and the UK?

As leads are coming from different online and offline channels, a simple comparison of the number of leads coming from the UK and the US across channels over the last two months might reveal the reason for the difference. Again, putting the question in the right context will allow a follow up WHY question – such as why a specific channel is not growing at the same pace will lead to another layer of exploration. You got the idea.

In the next article, we will discuss how to scale this approach across the organization.

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